Hopkins v. BCI Coca-Cola: Ninth Circuit Continues Defense of Iskanian

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Last month, in Hopkins v. BCI Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Los Angeles, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals maintained its position, finding that California’s public policy prohibiting waiver of Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”) claims was not preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). See Hopkins, No. 13-56126 (9th Cir. Feb. 19, 2016) (slip op. available here). In Hopkins, the panel reversed and remanded the district court’s order dismissing the plaintiff’s PAGA claim and granting the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration, finding that an employee’s right to bring a PAGA action cannot be waived. See id. at 1-2.

In Hopkins, as in Sakkab v. Luxottica Retail N. Am., Inc., 803 F.3d 425 (9th Cir. 2015) before it, the Ninth Circuit followed the California Supreme Court’s landmark decision, Iskanian v. CLS Transp. Los Angeles, LLC, 59 Cal. 4th 348 (2014). In Iskanian, the California Supreme Court found that the state’s public policy prohibiting waiver of PAGA claims was not preempted by the FAA, establishing the unenforceability of PAGA waivers in arbitration agreements. See Iskanian, 59 Cal. 4th at 388-89. A few months ago, the Ninth Circuit set forth its view in Sakkab v. Luxottica Retail N. Am., Inc., 803 F.3d 425 (9th Cir. 2015), upholding Iskanian and finding that a contractual waiver of the right to bring a representative PAGA action is unenforceable. Id. at 431.

First, the Hopkins panel held that the Iskanian rule applied to the arbitration agreement and thus, Hopkins’ waiver of his right to bring a PAGA action is unenforceable. The appeals court rejected the defendant’s contention that the FAA preempts the Iskanian rule and requires enforcement of the PAGA waiver, an argument the court held was “foreclosed in light of [the] decision in Sakkab.” Slip op. at 2. After severing the clause containing the representative claims waiver from the arbitration agreement, the court stated it was unclear whether the plaintiff had argued the arbitration agreement itself was unconscionable and whether the parties had agreed to litigate or arbitrate remaining claims. Accordingly, case was remanded to determine in what venue Hopkins’ representative PAGA claims should be resolved.

Hopkins illustrates the Ninth Circuit’s continued fidelity to Iskanian. Indeed, just recently the Ninth Circuit also denied Luxottica’s petition seeking rehearing en banc in Sakkab, a decision that seems less likely to be reviewed by the United States Supreme Court, now that the Court’s composition has changed. As employers continue to use arbitration agreements with representative action waivers to avoid having to face class or representative actions, Hopkins clears the way for employees’ PAGA claims to be heard in some forum.

Authored by: 
Ruhandy Glezakos, Associate